Monthly Archives: July 2013

Wolves

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It was dark in the stone building as morning light struggled to filter through the windows. Muffled shapes and figures exhaled softly in the barracks, their breath mingling in the still-cool air.  One of them rolled over, murmuring something gently in his sleep before silence once more reigned. Armor hung by bedsides, patched constructions of leather and metal and cloth. The gleam of weapons could clearly be seen resting next to sleeping arms or placed within easy reach—though perhaps not close enough.

Sloan stood in the center of them all, scanning the soft shapes of the soldiers. Soldiers? No. More like cattle. Lined up to the slaughter without even realizing that they’re about to die. He adjusted the grip on his weapon, a club stuck with nails and glass. It may not have been as…refined as some others, but it would serve.

He scratched his chest with one hand, his fingers meeting the raised veins and cracked skin. He could feel it, pumping through him, pulsing. It burned like fire, racing through his body. His lips curled slightly as his lowered his hand, glancing over the bodies. These were the people he fought with, side by side. These were the men and women he had dedicated his life to. These were the ones he protected. These were the mercenaries who safeguarded the town.

No wonder he had been so weak.

Look at them. Sleeping. Unobservant. They’d only wake for a horde—or a loud group of mongrels. They wouldn’t rise for a footstep. They wouldn’t stir for a breath or the soft whisper of an unsheathed dagger. They’re weak. Sloan took a step forward, feeling his lips slide back from his teeth as he raised his weapon. They’re food.

There was a creak, the sound of a door being opened. Sloan jerked his head around, grip tightening on his weapon as he barred his teeth. A figure was suddenly behind him, her pale hair standing out in the gloom.

“Hey, Sloan. What are you doing there?”

He glanced to the weapon in his hand, lowering it as he quickly noted the girl’s own blade was sheathed at her side. Foolish. He allowed himself to smile at her, feeling his muscles tense as he considered how best to eliminate her without waking the others. The armor might be an issue, but there was always her throat, “Just…observing.”

She nodded in return, her eyes watching his as she shifted to one side—slightly behind him. Smart move. I’ll give her credit for that little maneuver. He had to pivot slightly to keep her in his line of sight—and turn his back on the sleeping bodies.

“Observing what, Sloan?”

Sloan. It was a weak name—one that reminded him of feeble attempts at heroism and needless death. He shrugged, keeping his eyes on the latest threat, “Not sure yet.” He paused for a moment as the woman’s expression didn’t change, as she continued to watch him. Let’s see if we can throw her off a bit. “But Sloan’s not here right now…I’m having a bit of fun.”

The pale girl didn’t move, didn’t blink. Sloan felt the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. Tentatively, cautiously, he sniffed the air. She smelled wrong, the scent of something other than what she was. He wasn’t dealing with prey—he was facing another predator. Competition. He needed to eliminate it—quickly.

He took a step forward, grip tightening on his weapon. Take her down before she knows the attack is happening. He took another step, and then she spoke.

“How about we go for a walk? You look like you might be a little hungry. We’ll find you something to eat.”

Something told him that this was a trap. She was leading him outside to kill him; she’d have all of the prey for herself, then. Two could play at that game. He’d agree to the walk and then…

We could use her. The voice spoke up in the back of his mind, pleading, begging. We could use her. She’d be an asset.

He considered it for a moment, his eyes travelling along the Bay Walker’s form. If they fought, it would be messy; he’d have to lick his wounds before…other activities. Why not?

Sloan curled back his lips again in a smile, noting the way the girl kept her hands at her sides. Always the hidden threat.  He gestured with one hand toward the door, “You first.”

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The bar was dim, the dingy windows blocking the sun as it weakly tried to penetrate the accumulated years of grime. Scattered dust motes swam through the few rays that made their way inside, spinning in complicated spirals. A few cracked mugs littered the ground, sticky with spilled drinks from the night before. But you forgot all of it—the filth, the dried blood, the ingrained sadness. You forgot all of it when you heard the music.

It floated across the space, brightening the crooked tables and broken chairs. It wove through the doors and into the sunlight, piercing the darkness. The thrum of a guitar spun out a melody, mingling with the voice of the man behind the bar. Sloan couldn’t blame them for gathering together—like so many flies to sugar. They leaned forward, ears straining to hear the notes—addicts that only wanted more.

Weak.

Sloan wasn’t sure why the girl had brought him here—to a bar where prey would be difficult to capture with only the two of them. He was tired of playing the waiting game; he could sense she was there, seething under the surface, waiting to break free. But she hadn’t appeared—at least not fully.

“Don’t worry ‘bout a thing. Everything little thing’s gonna be all right.”

They leaned against the side of the sticky bar, the music floating over them in waves. He flexed his fingers, dried blood flaking from his hands. He wasn’t hungry at the moment, but that could change. He turned his head to watch the man playing the guitar. Unappetizing. His rotted face was stretched over bone and sinew, pieces of skin peeling at the corners of his mouth as he sang.

“Rise up this mornin’…smiled with the risin’ sun.”

Sloan shifted his weight, grimacing. The song made him uncomfortable, calling up images and thoughts that were best left buried. He cocked his head to the side, rolling his neck as muscle and tendons shifted under his skin. Ignore it.

Something made him glance toward the man again. Rudie, a voice whispered in the back of his head, a voice that he quickly pushed aside. The man was staring at him with blue eyes, lines creasing the flaking skin around them. They looked through him, peering into him and past him. Sloan flexed his fingers, gripping the side of the bar as he realized the danger. Those aren’t the eyes of prey.

Something cracked.

“Don’t worry ‘bout a thing. Every little thing’s gonna be all right.”

Sloan was suddenly singing, the words ripped from his throat. He choked himself off, staring at the eyes behind the bar, the eyes that didn’t belong to prey or foe or friend; the eyes that hardened as he watched them, the blue turning to ice and the cold glint of steel.

He pushed himself away from the table, ignoring the pale girl next to him as he shoved past warm, weak bodies and hard chairs. He stumbled away from the blue-eyed man and his music, fled from the thoughts and the words in his mind. You’re weak.

He burst through the doors, bright sunlight blinding him momentarily as he swallowed air. He stopped, his mind whirling, feelings jostling for a place amidst the chaos. Then it was calm again.

He wasn’t sure when the girl had arrived next to him outside, only that she was suddenly there. Her hair glinted gold in the light as she leaned next to the building, hand resting on the hilt of her blade. She arched a brow as she watched him, “You okay?”

Sloan turned to look at her fully, lips peeling back from his teeth, “Never better.”

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He should have known better.

Five pairs of hands dragged Sloan into the dim room as he thrashed, snarling and gritting his teeth. Rip out their throats. He planted his heels into the wooden floorboards as they shoved and pushed. He growled as they finally grabbed his arms and legs, bodily constraining him and placing him onto the wooden table.

Five. It takes five of them to drag us all the way here.

They wrapped metal around his hands and chest, binding his legs and ankles. The cold links bit into his skin as he struggled against the constraints. Weak. You were always weak. The hard corner of the wood beneath him pressed against his back as he twisted and writhed. Pathetic.

They all stood around him. The woman that smelled of death, the man the smelled of sin, the others that had dragged him inside: they all watched.

She betrayed him. They all betrayed him. He let out a shout, the metal straining against his skin as it screeched in protest. There was suddenly a sharp pain in the back of his head—and then there was darkness.

He stared at the creature, his mouth watering as he crouched in the underbrush. The sharp scents of earth and crushed leaves and musk mingled together. He moved forward, only one thing on his mind: blood.

Blood. It was all around him, coating him. The sharp, metallic scent of it crawled through his nostrils, making him dizzy. Sloan turned his head to one side, dazed for a moment as he realized the blood was his own, dripping to the wooden floorboards.

“Focus, Sloan. It’s okay.”

His vision swam as he looked upward, staring into blue eyes framed with green. He blinked—once, twice. The woman slowly came into focus. Dark curls hung around a face creased with worry. Rosemary.

“Keep with me, Sloan.”

There was a sharp pain, the feeling of a blade cutting into his chest. He yelled, vision fading momentarily as cold—indescribable cold—filtered through him. It seeped through his limbs, making them heavy as his thoughts slowed.

“Sloan! Can you hear me?”

He tried to say something to her, but it was too hard, too difficult to open his lips. Sleep crawled through his mind, soothing him as the cold forced him into darkness. It would be so much easier to give up—so much easier to rest. He was tired—so tired.

“Sloan! Don’t give up!”

It closed in on him, dragging him into its icy depths. He felt nothing—no pain, no worry, no weakness. He prepared to dive into it, to let it embrace him as his breath stilled.

“Sloan!”

He could let it all go. He could sink into it and never wake up. It would be so easy—so simple.

No.

He gasped, his body jerking as pain flooded back into him; light burned his eyes as he struggled for air, clawing for it. The faces suddenly sharpened around him, brightening as his body spasmed. His chest burned, a sharp, white hot pain that pulsed through him as he took breath after breath after breath.

No. I’m not weak. I’m alive.

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Predators

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The room was dark in the candlelight. Shapes and shadows flickered along the walls, twisting and turning as they changed the rickety beds and broken chairs into monstrous figures. A man lay in one of them, his soft snores blending with gentle sounds of leaves rustling outside and the branches scratching against the sides of the windows. Warm, damp air hung in the space, muffling sound like a blanket, pressing in on the people there.

Alexa took a deep breath, her eyes flickering to the others sitting around her. They were silent, motionless. Their stoic faces were covered by cloth or hats or masks. Worry. Interest. Distrust. Their eyes watched her warily in return.

“Are you ready?”

Alexa turned her focus back toward the red haired man in front of her. His eyes seemed to gleam in the dim light, casting a glow of their own. A fleeting thought crossed her mind, a thought that involved blood and screams. She shifted uncomfortably on the stone floor, resting her blade across her legs as she pushed the thought aside. The cool metal felt almost comforting as she nodded, “Yes, I suppose.”

“Then let’s begin.”

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The buildings formed shadowy silhouettes in the darkness, dim light peeping out through windows from hastily lit candles. A few people stood outside, hushed voices kept low to avoid unwanted attention. Alexa remained near the side of one of the dingy structures, her eyes travelling over the others present. She marked out the exposed back of the dark-haired doctor, the waiting side of one next to him. Her fingers twitched for a moment as the back of her neck began to itch.

The worst part was the itching. The sensation of skin bubbling outward over time as the pressure built in the back of her neck. She could feel the soreness of it, the pain as it spread in small jolts down her spine.  It was uncomfortable after ten minutes, sore after thirty, aching after an hour. Then the pain began to fade, slowly disappearing. That’s what scared her the most—the possibility of forgetting it was there.

His voice brought her back to herself, floating over the others in lilting tones. Concern. “Are you all right, Alexa?”

She turned her head away from the others and toward him, marking out the pale face, the bruising around his dark eyes. He kept still as she watched him, the motions of a man who didn’t want to frighten a deer. Alexa nodded, “Yes, I was just treated.”

He nodded in return as they fell into an easy silence. Lights blinked on and off in the nearby trees, crickets chirping to each other in the warm night. A breeze stirred the nearby leaves, bringing with it the scents of smoke and forest and blood. Alexa allowed her eyes to close for a moment, trying to block out the feeling of disquiet before she spoke, “You’re not very loud. I appreciate that. Thank you.” She glanced toward him again, noting the way he was watching her. Worry.

“Well I try not to be. You’re welcome.” He gave her a sideways glance, but didn’t press further. That’s what she liked about him—the less questions the better.

There was a pause in the murmur of conversation across from them. The others suddenly broke apart and walked toward them. Curiosity. Their feet crunched against the ground. Wary. Distrust. She marked out the long coat of the masked girl, the way it hid her bony frame, wondering how thick the material was. Her eyes shifted to the other man, black clothes covering him in darkness. He stared back at her, challenging her.

Alexa looked away from him first, flexing her hands as they talked. The voices murmured around her, speaking without meaning anything. She tried to concentrate for a moment before the words slipped away from her again. Feelings trickled through her like a stream, flooding her as she focused on her breathing. In and out. Keep control. One more breath.

Cold fingers were suddenly on her hand, startling her back to the present. Alexa glanced up at the pale face in front of hers, shadowed by the hat he wore. There was a tug around her arm as something smooth slid across it. She looked down, noting the splash of scarlet cloth now tied around her wrist.

“Now…when you wake up tomorrow, just look at that and remember who you are. I’ve washed most of the blood out, so it should be fine.” The man offered her a faint smile, teeth glinting.

Alexa stared at the red scarf, registering exactly what it was. Her heart squeezed as that place within her became temporarily silent.  She smiled back at him, “Thank you.”

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“Then let’s begin.”

For a moment, there was silence. It settled over the room with the thick air, cloaking bodies and breath and word. It crept through the cracks of the walls and soothed the wind outside, taking away the sounds of voices and steps. For a moment, there was only calm—the glassy surface of a lake before the plunge.

Then there was pain.

The sound of screams filled the room, reverberating along the walls. They sliced through the air and shattered the silence, falling in shards that ripped and tore through the calm night. Make it stop! They continued on and on and on and on as Alexa suddenly realized that she was the one making the sound—she was the one that was screaming. Please! Make it stop!

The pain stabbed through her eyes and nose and mouth, hot needles burning their way through her from the inside and threatening to break her. Stop it! I can’t do this! They pulsed liked water, seared like fire, racing along her body as she slammed herself into the ground, trying to stop it, trying to feel something else. But all she felt was agony. Please!

She grabbed her blade, her hands gripping the hilt. Her breath came in gasps as the torture continued. It was a wave, it was a storm, it was the howling wind that shrieked through the night. It was glass and jagged metal. Stop it! It was impossible and there.

Alexa lunged, her blade coming down against the man’s arm. Bright blood suddenly spattered the ground, falling in fat, red drops. From far off, she heard a clatter, the sound of metal falling to the floor.

She was suddenly on the ground herself. Blood pooled around her, trailing out from her broken body—her blood, not his. The pain was back, sharper than before. Rosie! Stop them! It dug into her, claws tearing at her flesh and pushing through her eyes and tongue as she screamed. Don’t make me say it! Don’t make me!

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They crouched in the woods, their bodies remaining motionless as they peered through the green foliage. One pair of green eyes, one pair of red; they tracked the movements of the creature in front of them as it sniffed and paused, then sniffed again. Its ears twitched once as it nibbled on some grass, its lean body creeping forward. A warm wind blew toward the two figures, ruffling the pale fur on the animal’s back.

Without warning, one of the figures darted forward. His body moved in one, fluid motion—the attack of a predator with the certainty of success. He leapt, diving through the air, arms outstretched. There was a muffled sound, the impact of a larger body against a smaller one. The man rolled and then crouched, a small, furred thing wriggling in his hands.

Alexa straightened from her hunched position in the woods, her hand on the hilt of her blade. Hunger. She walked forward, her eyes focused on the man’s back as there was a sharp, cracking noise. She could see the furred creature suddenly fall limp, its body swaying in his hands. Then there was the sound of ripping, tearing. She sniffed and the sharp, metallic scent of blood filled her nostrils. There was the faint, plop of something wet falling onto leaves. Then there were the noises of something being eaten.

She tightened her grip on her sword, still watching his back. A steady patter of blood was now falling to the ground, slicking the leaves around him. She stared for a moment longer before she carefully let go of the hilt of her blade, instead placing a hand on the man’s shoulder. He glanced up at her, red eyes watching her—the look that a wolf gives a fox as it waits for a turn. Blood ran scarlet down his face, coating his hands up to the wrists. What was left of the carcass lay torn and mangled in his one hand.

“We should probably keep moving, Sloan.”

He smiled at her—a smile with no warmth, a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He slowly stood, looming over her as he wiped his mouth off with the back of his bloodied hand. Alexa tensed, the back of her neck itching faintly. They stared at one another for a moment before he finally spoke in a hoarse rasp, “Yes, keep moving. She’ll come out to play soon.”

Alexa gritted her teeth, but didn’t respond; instead, she deliberately turned her back on him, walking through the trees. She ignored the instinct to turn, to draw her sword. She tried to focus on the light dappling her skin and armor as it cast shadows on the ground. Tried to focus on the way the insects hummed steadily in the trees. Tried to focus on the bit of red cloth tied around her wrist. There was a moment’s pause, and then she heard the crunch of leaves behind her as he followed.

“You know it’s true.”

She wanted to shut him out, to keep moving, to keep walking. But as her feet stepped over branches and leaves, as she wound her way through trees and brambles, she knew that she couldn’t run.

It was inside her.

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Agony.

Faces swam in front of her. A pale face and a black face, a flushed face and a dead one. Her eyes were suddenly on the ceiling and then on the wall. They died! I ran! Her fingers scratched at her face, clawing as she screamed and screamed and screamed. I don’t know! I always run!

The flash of a pearl necklace, the strong grip of a woman. She cried and writhed, crushing her fingers into the ground, nails scrabbling across the surface. Anything would be better than this. Anything at all.

The pain continued, a tide that kept coming in with no boat to ride it, with no way to stop it. It choked her and left her gasping, taking away thought and word. I don’t want to be her! There was no Rook. There was no Alexa. There was only the relentless, unstoppable, indescribable torment. It poured through her insides, twisting, ripping, tearing.

Then there was anger. There was rage. There was hate. There was hunger. I will rip out your throat! She flung herself against the floor again and again, trying to push it away, trying to keep in control—but it was still there. Dead men tell no tales. It was all around. It was them and it was her and it was their feelings and her own. You have no idea. No idea at all.

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The sounds of screams filled the air, growls and snarls following the sharp, crack of gunshots and the deep thud of metal hitting bodies. Alexa ran past the individual battles, each group enacting their own type of personal drama. One man stabbed another through the gut. A woman fired a shot through a masked person’s skull, causing him to crumple to the ground. Blood, hot bright and red, oozed from beneath the crudely-made armor.

Alexa skidded to a halt on the packed dirt, whirling to the side to avoid the brutal swing of a club. She caught the brief glimpse of a white mask, feral eyes behind it as she leapt backward to keep away from another blow. Then she darted forward, her blade sliding beneath his ribs before she spun away again. The man—if you could call him a man—snarled as he swung again. Alexa felt something wet on her hands, slicking her grip as she knocked his weapon aside, her own blade slicing toward his neck.

There was the feeling of metal connecting with flesh, a sharp tug and then release. The creature stared at her for a moment, scarlet trailing down his throat in a bib before he collapsed to the ground; blank eyes stared upward at the pale sky.

The battles were slowly winding down. Throats were being slit and hearts stabbed as bodies slid into the earth. Alexa allowed herself to relax for a moment, taking a few deep breaths to calm herself. That’s when she heard the snarling.

Her head jerked upward, grip tightening on her blade as she walked down the packed road, following the noise. There was a cry of pain and then growling—Alexa picked up her pace, jogging past the wooden and stone structure of the main building. She pounded the ground with her feet before stopping.

The girl was crouched over one of the creatures that had attacked, her arms elbow deep in his insides. Blood smeared her mouth, dripping down her chin and onto her blouse. She buried her face in the man’s arm, sharp teeth ripping and tearing at the flesh. Curled, brown hair fell in front of her dead eyes, hiding her expression. A strand of gristle hung from her mouth before she slurped it up.

Alexa stared, adrenaline pumping through her for a moment as she remembered how it felt to strip muscle from bone, the way soft fat gave way to harder meat between teeth. She quickly pushed the thought away, taking a few breaths to keep calm. She closed her eyes, allowing nothing to fill her.

She held out one hand, holding onto that feeling like a lifeline—as if it were the only thing there. “Ellie, when was the last time you were treated?”

She was greeted with a snarl as the girl spat at her. Blood fell to the earth and she licked her lips, red tongue flicking up the droplets. She barred her stained teeth at Alexa, fangs standing out amidst the others.

Alexa watched her blue eyes, keeping her hand extended, “It’s okay. You know me.” She took a step forward, “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you.” Another step. Calm. Emotionless.

For a moment, Alexa thought the girl was going to run—dart off into the woods. For a moment, she thought that she was going to lose herself entirely. Then Ellie slowly stood, her clawed fingers flexing as droplets fell from her nails. Another step. Alexa placed a hand on the girl’s small shoulders, steering her away from the corpse. “This way. It’s okay.”

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Torment.

It pinned her to the ground as she snarled and writhed. The enemies were all around her, watching, waiting. She would kill them. She would destroy them. She would drink their blood and rip out their eyes and feast on their innards. She would wash her hands with them and in them. She would crunch their bones between her teeth. She screamed.

It slipped through her mind, between what was left of the cracks. It pulled and tugged as she growled and clawed at the person suddenly pinning her to the ground. There was the flash of a gold ring, a crown and a heart. She hissed and spat, body twisting and writhing, trying to escape. She would murder. She would kill. She would slaughter. They would die. They would die. They would die. She screamed.

She felt her body breaking, muscles failing as her eyes blurred. There was only anger and hate and rage left—only the will to survive. She struggled against it as her body contorted. She fought against it as someone said something from far away. Her limbs trembled, her hands shook, her vision faded.

She screamed.

Whisper

Standard

What are you doing here?

The darkness wraps around you like a cold blanket, muffling thought and word and sound. You feel like you’re floating—adrift in the sea of others swirling around you. You try to remember why you’re there—why you’re in this cold, dark place beneath the earth. Yet as soon as you grasp onto a memory it slips through your fingers—like water, like blood.

Thought. You must have a mind. You must have a body. You try to move through the blackness, swim through it, fly through it. You attempt to flex your fingers, stretch your limbs, swing your legs—but they’re not there. You’re not floating because in order to float, you’d need a body—and you no longer have one.

Panic surges inside you, choking you for a moment before the feeling drifts away—gentle as a breeze.

What are you doing here?

You realize you can no longer remember specific things—important things. The memory of your first kiss, the smile of your lover, your mother’s laughter, your father’s voice: They all are swept away in the stream, disappearing into nothingness.

You struggle for a moment, wondering if you should stop the tide, stop the flood. Names, places, stories; everything that made you who you were continues to slip away, to slide into the darkness. A child’s laughter is forgotten, a warm hug, a concerned friend.

The panic returns, duller than before—as if it’s echoing from far away. It’s the boom of distant thunder, the last faint whisper of a sigh.

What the hell are you doing here?

The cold and darkness move toward you, numbing you, entombing you. Feeling leaves you—the panic, the sadness, the nostalgia, the regret. It flies away with the memories to join the others around you. They pull at you, embrace you as you fall into them.

You suddenly realize you can’t remember your name. And then you realize that it doesn’t matter. You are no longer anyone. You are nothing.

The thought whispers for a moment, the last echo of your consciousness before it, too, fades away.

We are nothing.

The Grave

Standard

What you notice first is darkness. It swirls around you—living, breathing with no shape or form. It’s all-encompassing, suffocating, choking. It grabs you by the throat, pulling you down, trying to strangle you. Fear darts through you–the type of fear that stops your heart and rushes to your head. The type of fear that causes you to sway as your vision fades and as you realize you can no longer move. That’s when you realize you’re screaming—screaming without a voice, screaming without a sound.

Then there’s pain. It lances through you like fire, burning you to your very core. It swallows you whole as it bursts from inside of you, tearing through your flesh, ripping through your insides. It pierces your mind, needling in between the cracks until there’s nothing left but the darkness—the ever present darkness.

And beyond the pain, beyond the darkness, there are the voices. They call to you, screaming, crying, wailing. They laugh and sing, the burble of a child’s voice mingles with a woman’s gentle croon. A man’s harsh yell sounds out over a boyish call. A girl giggles, a man chuckles, a woman shrieks, a boy groans. Then it all crashes inward, the people, the voices—they join the darkness as they rip at you. Rage boils to the surface as your own silent screams mingle with theirs.

You realize they’re inside you.

The tide washes over you, pulling you into its depths. Mind numbing fear, endless confusion, soul rending hate and pain and suffering and fury. It lashes through you like a storm, pelting you with shards of anguish and dismay. You realize you’re crying without eyes, tears that never existed becoming part of the sea of emotion. Yet as the roar of it all crashes into you, rips into you, tears into you—you feel it. It’s the one thing you can’t ignore—the worst of it.

You feel Hunger.